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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My wife told me to have sex outside our marriage


Dear Virginia,

A couple of years ago, my wife told me that though she loved me she wasn’t interested in sex any more. She said that if I wanted sex, I should find it outside our marriage, but that she didn’t want to know about it. About 18 months ago, I found a woman at work who was in the same position as me – happily married, but not having sex with her husband. Every week, we meet for sex and say to our partners we’re having a business meeting. But though I don’t love this woman, I feel so guilty and I hate lying to my wife. Do you think I should tell her?

Yours sincerely, Matthew

You've made a contract with your wife. The secrecy is all part of the deal. If you were to tell her now, you'd be betraying her far more cruelly than you're betraying her (if betraying is the word in this case), by having sex with this other woman.

The fact that you're uncomfortable about it is your problem, not hers. By telling her, all you'd be doing is make her feel uncomfortable, while you would feel a kind of cod “honesty”. Telling her wouldn't be the act of a loving husband.

However, there are drawbacks to this present arrangement. One is that you might start to feel emotionally close to this other woman. Or perhaps this woman might start feeling emotionally close to you. Or this woman's husband might suddenly become furiously jealous and start attacking you, or telling your wife or people at your work. If there's any way you could get back to having sex with your wife – or some kind of sexual activity that would relieve your frustration and make you both feel close – then this would solve all your problems.

Have you discovered why your wife's gone off sex? Is it because it's painful for her? If so, there are hormonal pessaries and creams that would certainly be worth a try. It is because after sex she's prone to infections such as cystitis? Again, that could be dealt with by a doctor. Is it because she finds you unattractive? If so, it would be time for you to make an effort to regain your once-slim figure, sort out your bad breath, stop farting in bed or whatever it is that she finds so distasteful. Is it because she's ashamed of her ageing body? In which case, she could easily be reassured if you tried hard enough. Or is she having a fantastic sex life with someone else? You should explore every avenue before continuing with an arrangement that sounds rather dismal. Or dismal, at least, if you feel so guilty about it.

Presuming you had a reasonable sex life in the past, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to have some kind of happy shared sexual experience together now. Surely it would be worth going to see a sex therapist together?

Whatever, please don't tell her. It would be kinder simply to give up this other woman. And, who knows, she may know herself well enough to realise that if she were to be faced with the truth, she'd find it intolerable. And that could mean the end of your marriage.

Readers say... Don't do it

Tell her? Absolutely not. Your wife, very charitably, gave you carte blanche to indulge in sex with others, with the proviso that she was to remain ignorant. Should you now spill the beans, then, paradoxically, you are doing the lady a disservice by misusing her trust.

PJ Hill, by email

Save your marriage

Your wife's desire not to know about your sexual activity does seem to suggest that your marriage would change for the worse if she had to know about it. So I'd say don't tell her.

You do not say, however, whether you have any idea why she apparently cannot bear any sexual contact with you, and I wonder if there is any chance of gently trying to re-open the discussion together, or with the help of a counsellor.

However friendly and civilised a marriage may be, with no sexual intimacy at all, it does lack an important source of warmth and closeness – the sense of being a couple – and lays the marriage open to break-up.

Julie Harrison, by email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I love my wife dearly, but she drives me mad by apologising all the time. Every time anything bad happens she says “sorry”. Even her friends have noticed it, and it's really annoying me. We have endless arguments over it, with me saying it sounds as if she's responsible for every bad thing that happens, and her saying it's just polite and everyone always said it in her family. I've told her that love means never having to say you're sorry, but she won't stop and it's actually becoming a bone of real contention.

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Anthony to do?

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